Faced with a squeeze between available funds and an increasing number of athletes, leaders of Special Olympics Montana have canceled this year’s State Winter Olympics in Whitefish.
For years now, the Special Olympics athletes from all over Montana would flock to Whitefish Mountain resort in the waning days of winter to compete in alpine skiing, snowshoe races, and other events at a state level.
But over the weekend, Special Olympics leaders announced they’ve decided to call off plans for the 2018 State Winter Games, which had been scheduled for March 2018.
In a statement on the Special Olympics Montana website, President and “Chief Executive Fan” Bob Norbie explained the games had seen “significant growth and expansion” putting the organization in the position of re-thinking how best to serve athletes with the available funding and fan base providing volunteers.
So this year, Special Olympics will be encouraging local organizations to host their own winter games, with the idea that top finishing athletes would be invited to a statewide event every four years.
Norbie says the number of athletes has nearly doubled in the past five years, with participation days averaging 50 days per athlete.
He says Special Olympics must take some time now to figure out how to best maintain and support that growth.
Here is the full text of the message from Special Olympics Montana:
Due to significant growth and expansion we’ve experienced through Vision 2020 and our strategic plan over the past decade, we must rethink how to service athletes, coaches, and volunteers through our sports and competition model. To begin with, we will not conduct the 2018 State Winter Games at the Whitefish Mountain Resort. Please continue to read for further details.
For the past several years we’ve recognized that we are unable to continue servicing our mission the way we have. With athlete numbers increasing at a rate faster than we have the capacity (fans and funds) to serve them with our current service delivery model, we need to rethink how we care for our mission and sustain quality program.
Since 2011, Vision 2020 has challenged us to “Open hearts and minds towards people with intellectual disabilities using sports to create inclusive communities…” Our strategic goals charged us to 1) Empower athletes to perform at their best by improving quality and access to our programs 2) Change attitudes towards people with intellectual disabilities, and 3) Create sustainable quality growth that serves 3,000 athletes annually by yearend 2020. With your support, we’ve largely achieved these goals.
Consider for a moment that in 2011 we served 1,850 Special Olympics Montana athletes with intellectual disabilities and in 2016 we served 2,966 athletes (2,429 with intellectual disabilities, 273 Young Athletes, and 264 Unified Partners). Given the addition of new ancillary programs for our athletes, athlete participation days have grown to, on average, 50 days a year per athlete. Local Programs, Area Management Teams and Games Management Teams all across the state have created this success. However, with this success we are faced with how to sustain our growth.
To this end and, effective immediately, we will take a pause from our 2016-2020 Strategic Plan and put our attentions to rethinking how we service our sports training and competition model to keep up with the growth we’ve experienced as a result of achieving Vision 2020. Some of the answers lie in returning to “sports essentials” and redoubling our efforts to provide coaches training in the eighteen Olympic-type sports we offer at the grass-root level. Some of our solutions will come from exploring opportunities to further regionalize competition. And some of our strategies will come from utilizing our finite human and financial resources differently. All of this needs to be rethought in the context of our athletes, their families, our coaches and volunteers. In short, we will work more purposefully from the bottom up versus the top down.
Over the next couple years, we plan to pilot program changes to see how well they work as we serve SOMT athletes with sustainable quality sports training and competition, health, education and community-building initiatives. As we test the veracity of these changes, your ongoing support and feedback will help us determine if changes should become more permanent.
In the absence of 2018 State Winter Games, we hope resources saved by local programs will be used to strengthen Unified Sports and engage more local athletes at Area Winter Games while state headquarters staff focus attention on coaches training statewide, and the 2018 USA Games in Seattle, WA, among other priorities.
Please know that alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowboarding will continue to be part of our sports program and athletes will remain eligible for advancement to higher levels of competition (i.e. World Games). Additionally, with cancellation of State Winter Games, the prepayment process you’ve previously heard about will now begin with the 2018 State Summer Games.
By developing and experimenting with a new sports training and competition model, we believe we will establish a better way to sustain our growth. Experimenting as we have with Regional Bowling competitions suggests that there are, in fact, better ways to create cost effective competition that is considerate of your time and energy. While we don’t have all the answers right now, with your support, everyone will win.
In addition to removing the State Winter Games from our 2018 calendar, next year we plan to:
SOMT understands that the cancellation of State Winter Games may present challenges and complications. Among other things this may include refunding team housing deposits, potentially large increases at Area Games, and the need for an Area Winter Games in the Flathead. Going forward, however, we will do our best to help you address these issues while keeping you apprised of future plans.
Please anticipate hearing more from staff in the weeks and months ahead as we partner for success. Should you have any questions, insights or observations, please contact Jamie Wood, 406.315.4194 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Lanni Klasner, 406.315.4212 or email@example.com; or Rhonda McCarty, 406.315.4209 or firstname.lastname@example.org, at your earliest convenience.
THANK YOU for your continued support as a faithful steward of Special Olympics Montana.